3-4 Days: Lhasa Monasteries+Ganden Monastery or Yamdrok Turquoise Lake
Lhasa and Its Monasteries:
The holy city of Lhasa was founded as the capital of the Tibetan Empire in the 7th century by the Emperor Songtsen Gampo. Since the beginning of the ascendancy of the Dalai Lamas in the 17th century, it has had no rivals on the Tibetan Plateau.
"The Place of the Gods", (10 950 ft.) which straddles the Kyichu Valley, is the planet's majestic rooftop city where amid temples, wafting incense and devoted Buddhists, the traditional Tibetan lifestyle continues. Filled with sights, sounds and an abundance of shops, restaurants and historical monasteries, the Tibetan quarter of Lhasa will keep you busy!
The glorious Potala Palace, truly an architectural gem, was the residence of the Dalai Lamas known to the Tibetans as Yishin Norbu, Wish-fulfilling Gem. The Emperor Songtsen Gampo is believed to have built the first palace in 637 and later it was rebuilt and expanded by the Great Fifth Dalai Lama in the 17th century. Today the Potala is a state museum but the vibration of its sanctity can still be felt.
The Jokhang was built in the 7th century by King Songtsen Gampo and his two wives—the Nepalese Princess Bhrikuti and the Chinese Princess Wencheng. It houses the famous Jowo Rinpoche (Buddha Shakyamuni) statue, the holiest object in Tibet. Over the centuries, the complex has expanded and been rebuilt several times but remarkably, the core of the original temple still remains and can be visited. The Jokhang is a UNESCO World Heritage site and its importance to the Tibetan people cannot be exaggerated.
The best way to experience the Jokhang is to arrive in the morning and mingle with pilgrims from all over Tibet as they perform their devotions. Then visit the temple in the afternoon with your guide. The interior of the Jokhang is a dark labyrinth of chapels dedicated to various gods and bodhisattvas, illuminated by votive candles and thick with the perfumed smoke of incense.
Five km north of Lhasa, Sera once housed more than 5,000 monks of the Gelugpa tradition. Sera, Enclosure of Roses, was established in the 15th century by a disciple of Tsongkhapa. Since 1959 and the Cultural Revolution, it has gradually been rebuilt but today it is still only a shadow of its former self. Displaying impressive architecture, it also houses an unparalleled collection of sacred art. Sera Monastery upholds the educational tradition of monastic debates which are held every afternoon except Sundays. YouTube debate video
The Norbulingka is a park that was developed in the mid 18th century as the Summer Palace of the Dalai Lamas. It was also the seat of government during the summer months. The complex includes a debating courtyard and three palaces. To the east, there is an open air stage and gardens where operatic performances are held during the Shoton Festival.
Drepung or Rice Heap Monastery located at the foot of Mount Gephel, is one of the great three Gelukpa university monasteries of Tibet. The others are Ganden and Sera. Drepung is about 8 km west of Lhasa and is built below a valley wall. It once housed more than 7,000 monks. Much has been destroyed but the four primary buildings have been preserved..YouTube video.
Southwest of Drepung, Ganden was built by the Second Dalai Lama in the 16th century. Today it houses two important images, the talking Tara statue and the Great Compassionate One.
Yamdro Yutso Turquoise Lake:
The sacred lake of Yamdrok Yutso (4,408 m) is believed to be the life-force of the Tibetan nation. Stretching over an area of 754 km, its teal blue waters create the largest lake in southern Tibet. Surrounded by snow capped mountain ranges, the lake is fed by the icy streams and inlets that flow down from the higher elevations during the warm summer months. Its curved pincer shape boasts nine islands, numerous bays and is home to several monasteries. At Gampa La Pass, on a winding road that leads to Yamdrok Yatso, you'll enjoy an unforgettable vista.